November 27, 2021

Rescue dog who was too obese to stand is transformed by £18,000 life-saving diet

When Meredith Wille saw a photo of rescue dog Bertha on Facebook, she believed the poor animal’s huge size meant she only had about two months to live.

At 4st 7lb, the beagle pug cross was so chronically obese that she couldn’t stand up.

And when dog fitness trainer Meredith, 49, met Bertha for the first time she realised the problems were even worse than she thought and the photo didn’t show how bad things were.

But after a lot of hard work and dedication, and a new £18,000 diet, Bertha has now completely transformed in a sleek beauty.

Meredith from Beaver County, near Pittsburgh in the US, said: “Bertha couldn’t stand, let alone walk, and was so unbelievably fat, you could barely see her head.

“It was very sad to see.”

Dog
She was in a lot of pain before the weightloss

“I’m pretty convinced she wouldn’t have survived another month or two without tackling her chronic obesity.”

Meredith first saw a horrific picture of Bertha on Facebook alongside a plea for someone with the right skills to help her, in November 2019.

The message explained she had been rescued along with six other dogs from their former home by Animal Control.

As the clinical director of the Steel City Canine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Clinic in Pittsburgh, who had previously worked as a veterinary technician, Meredith knew if anyone could save this poor dog, it was her.

Dog
She’s been swimming to get back into shape

She said: “When I saw this absolutely horrifying picture of the dog with the message alongside asking ‘hey, does anyone want a challenge?’ I thought I could help her.”

Bertha, as she was named by the Animal Control workers who rescued her, was probably aged between eight and 10 years at the time – and a lot of work would be needed to save her.

Meredith, who is single and lives alone with her six pet dogs, said: “I wrote to the vet at the shelter in Ohio where Bertha was being cared for and said this is what I do for a living.

“I listed everything I could do for her, but the vet came back and said that’s kind of you, but we just don’t have the money for all that.

Dog
She looks incredible now

“So I suggested they allow me to foster her.”

The vet agreed and they met in a Walmart car park in Ohio, a three-hour drive from Meredith’s home, for the handover.

“The vet got Bertha out of the car and put her on the ground which is when I realised the photo I had seen on Facebook did not come close to the horrible health she was in,” Meredith said.

Kicking into professional mode, she took Bertha to a vet for blood tests in Pittsburgh and discovered the pooch had an underactive thyroid, which would have caused her to become obese.

She also had a snapped tendon in her left hind leg which would have made walking difficult and painful even without her excess weight.

Dog
She built up her time on the treadmill

And on top of all that, Bertha was borderline diabetic and in danger of developing both pancreatitis and liver failure.

Meredith said: “It was a little worrisome hearing all her medical problems.

“I thought, ‘well if I can get this dog to live for four to six months we might be at a good point’.

“But I wasn’t certain she was going to survive. I was going to do my best.”

With the vet agreeing Bertha could not undergo surgery to fix her leg until her 4st 7lb weight was back under control, as she would not survive the anaesthetic, Meredith devised a weight loss programme, supported by gentle exercise and thyroid medication.

She explained: “My goal was that Bertha should lose between four to five per cent of her total body weight each month – which meant it would take a year or so to drop half her body weight.”

Dog
She’s much happier now

If she made it through the programme, Bertha would weigh a much healthier 2st 2lb – but an uphill battle lay ahead.

Bertha was too fat to walk, even having to be carried out of her bed and lifted into the backyard to go to the loo as she was too obese to move, so starting a fitness programme was going to be difficult for her.

Meredith’s solution was to start her off on the clinic’s underwater treadmill – a set-up that sees the exercise machine placed underwater so the dog’s joints are supported by the water as it walks forwards.

Meredith said: “Bertha could only walk for around two minutes at first and that was a big effort.

“It was about three to four months before we got her up to 15 minutes – I was only adding thirty seconds to a minute at a time.”

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As Bertha’s fitness began to improve, she was also able to use a special swimming pool for dogs, belonging to one of Meredith’s friends, so she could swim around 18-22 metres a time.

Within four months, she had lost around 15-20lbs and as Bertha’s fat began to melt away, her character started to shine through.

“For the first four months Bertha wasn’t much of anything,” Meredith said.

“She was like a lump on a log.

“Then slowly, her personality started to emerge.

“She’s a very cheerful and naughty dog – she’s always getting into things – and she’s very attached to me.”

In June 2020, Bertha was finally slim enough to undergo surgery to fix her injured tendon in her ankle.

And Meredith said the operation was a “game-changer”.

She added: “She was completely transformed. She could play more, do more and walk for longer – it was pretty outstanding.”

But a month later, calamity struck.

To Meredith’s alarm, Bertha refused dinner and became listless and it turned out she had a serious gallbladder infection, meaning the organ needed to be urgently removed.

And while under the knife, the vet discovered she had a lump on her spleen so that was taken out too.

“I was told she had a 50 per cent chance of surviving all that surgery but she pulled through,” Meredith said.

Astonishingly, within days Bertha was well enough to return to her fitness programme and in October 2020, she reached her target weight.

Now Bertha is a fit and healthy dog, even if she will never be naturally athletic.

In all, Meredith said, Bertha’s health and fitness training would have cost in the region of $25,000 (£18,000) – but she provided her part for free and was able to raise $10,000 (£7,000) through donations to pay for her medical bills and healthy food, which costs around $150 (£110) a month.

Meredith said: “She’s never going to be super-active but the transformation in her has been amazing to see.

“Bertha is a wonderful dog.”

Plenty of other people agree – for Bertha now has more than 7,700 fans on her own Instagram page, @bertha_gets_bitty, which has tracked her battle to fitness and also showcases how Meredith helps dogs at her clinic.

And best of all, Bertha now has a forever home – after Meredith, who had only intended to foster her in the beginning, formally adopted her in December 2020.

Meredith said: “After spending so much time with her, I realised she is an older dog and I didn’t want her to have to adjust to another new home.

“She’s a very sweet and loving dog and just wants to be by my side.

“As long as she maintains her weight, that’s fine by me!”

To find out more, visit instagram.com/bertha_gets_bitty